MILFORD — City Council recently authorized City Manager Mark Whitfield to negotiate the possible purchase of the 182-acre R&C Fry Farms LP on the corner of Del. 14 and Del. 15 in the northwest section of Milford for the purpose of creating an industrial/business park.
The Fry family countersigned a letter of intent last week sent by the council May 11.
The property, which has been for sale for about five years, is appraised to be worth between $8 million and $10 million.
Sara Pletcher, Milford’s economic development and community engagement administrator, said that if the purchase is made, the city would use reserve funds to foot the bill for the cost of the land, as well as the $10 million worth of infrastructure improvements needed for an industrial/business park.
The reserve funds, she said, are “just sitting in the bank making very little interest at the time.”
“Then, the goal is when lots are sold, the money goes back into that reserve fund,” Ms. Pletcher said.
She said the city would like to see construction accomplished through a public-private partnership. Ms. Pletcher added that the land could be rezoned, so that the interior would be available for industrial use and the exterior, which is closest to Del. 14 and Del. 15, would be zoned for commercial use.
The vacant land is currently zoned a combination of R-3 (garden apartment and townhouse) and C-3 (highway commercial). According to a news release, the city will be submitting a comprehensive plan amendment request to the Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination for comments before holding public hearings with the Milford Planning Commission and City Council this summer.
If the comprehensive plan amendment is approved, the properties could be rezoned to accommodate industrial and commercial uses, the news release stated.
“If we had a private partnership, the developer could come in and purchase the commercial lots,” Ms. Pletcher said. “They could sell those off, develop them, and when it’s (zoned for commercial use), they could have everything from restaurants to retail to doctor’s offices, depending on what kind of tenants they find.”
She said city staff identified five potential acquisition opportunities but found this property to be the best option.
“It’s already in city limits, it has one owner, and it was for sale,” Ms. Pletcher said. “That certainly helps.”
She said the area is surrounded by similar industrial business, so its purchase and development should be cohesive to that part of the city.
“This one has the most positive checks for what we needed,” Ms. Pletcher said.
This purchase does not cancel out the city potentially purchasing the former Rookery North golf course.
“That is still on the discussion table for council — they have not made a final decision yet,” Ms. Pletcher said.
Addressing concerns raised by residents on social media that the city is taking property that could be used for a new school, Ms. Pletcher said that the Milford School District has “taken a different direction,” so purchasing the land is not an option right now. She noted the land is still on the market, as the sale to the city is not final, so anyone could make an offer.
The school district confirmed it is not seeking to buy the site, with a spokeswoman writing in an email that “the district does not have any plans to purchase property at this time.”
Mr. Whitfield said in the news release that the city’s 2018 strategic plan “identified the need for an industrial park” to meet growing demands for light industrial and e-commerce warehousing.
“Milford sits in a strategically good location with good access to state routes 1, 113 and 13, as well as west access to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from state Route 14. Milford is in the center of the Delmarva peninsula, making us a great location for an e-commerce distribution hub,” Mr. Whitfield said in the release. “The proposed purchase will allow us to be competitive with other cities in the area, and satisfy the need to create jobs within Milford.”